Saturday, August 17, 2013


I spent all of yesterday with my daughters and my niece down in Oporto. What an odd but beguiling city it is. There are some wonderful buildings and some magnificent churches but, overall, the impression is one of dereliction and decay, especially when you leave the main thoroughfares for the side streets. The city, I felt, has many better days behind it that it has ahead of it. That said, the Ribeira zone overflows with bars and restaurants and the area was buzzing with contented tourists last night. And they've cleaned up the once appalling shanty town that stretches down to the river on the other side of the bridge over the Douro river separating Oporto from Gaia. Likewise the red-light barrio around the cathedral. Plus, there are signs that renovation and restoration are creeping up from the Ribeira area towards the city centre. There's a new four-star hotel and a few flat blocks where refurbishment has either already taken place or is in progress. 

Oporto's old flat blocks are narrow, colourful and only 3 or 4 storeys high, so would offer a fascinatingly variegated panorama, if all were restored to their original state. I'll check on this in 2033. Meanwhile, it's hard to believe the state of decay of most of them, whether in the city centre or outside it. As for the '1950s brutal' modern buildings and the cheap, shoddy shop fronts, the least said the better. Both are reminiscent of the Soviet Union. As as are the streets named after dates and the squares named after The Republic and Liberty. If not quite communist then certainly very left-of-centre.

In sharp contrast to urban decay is thriving Oporto's airport - very well designed and very easy to reach. Unless you're leaving from the city centre in a car. I venture to say that, in this case and without a sat-nav, you'd never find your way out as there are no signs whatsoever. To anywhere. Quite bewildering. 

But back to the positives - Oporto also has at least one magnificent café, The Majestic. Here - as everywhere else in the city - you can hear yourself think and your fellow drinkers/diners talk. Which was a pleasant interlude for us, before we headed back to the cacophony of Spain.

Talking of which . . . I'd tried to bone up on Portugal's newish toll road system but, as in the past, gave up because of its stupid complexity. The end result - as on previous visits - was that I did pay the tolls on the A3 autopista but not on the road (A41) to and from the airport. This is around 40 cents and is automatically deducted via cameras on overhead gantries from a dispositivo you're supposed to take the trouble (and significant cost) to buy ahead of entry onto the tolls network and install on your dashboard. But, for the 4th or 6th time, I didn't and so now run the risk of being stopped and fined some huge amount for not paying around 3 euros. Madness. Or desperation to generate revenue. Or both, of course.

Incidentally, when did we stop calling it the fascia and start calling it - US fashion - the dashboard?

So, on to the fotos:-

There's a marvellous bookshop in Oporto. You're not supposed to take fotos but, being culturally Spanish, I took one and then apologised profusely:-

And here's one of those squares named after something militaristic in tone. You can probably work out what. Calling it The Olive Field obviously didn't cut the nationalistic mustard:-

And here's an example of a building (art deco?) which has seen much better days but now looks like a dowager aunt with her make-up peeling off:-

Finally . . . Here's another shameless plug for my younger daughter's 2nd blog post. 

1 comment:

Anthea said...

What an amazing place Oporto is. I just hope theymanage to restore it and preserve it.

I've been to that bookshop - wonderful place - and I too took photos. It was too beautiful to resist.

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